TORONTO, Ont. — Why have law firms resisted the move to cloud technology and what are the benefits they’re missing out on? Recently, a panel of technology experts discussed how cloud technology is not new, but it keeps getting re-branded even as it’s getting more looks from law firms as they grapple with small and large data breaches and cybersecurity incidents.
Indeed, the issue was given a deep dive at a panel titled, A Road Less Traveled: Security, Standardization and Strategic Transitioning to the Cloud, held at the Legal Executive Institute’s 2018 Emerging Legal Technology Forum last month.
Panelist Andrew Powell, director of information technology at Macfarlanes, said that while law firm partners tend to cite client concerns as their main reason to resist changing on-premises software to storage in the cloud, his firm found that is not often the case. “Attorneys have said over and over that we can’t move to the cloud because clients won’t allow, but we discovered they will, and it’s all in how you execute it,” Powell said.
Another panelist, Alvin Tedjamulia, chief technology officer and co-founder of NetDocuments, agreed, noting his company had talked to nearly all the big financial institutions, and once they understood the security model in case of a catastrophe, they realized that the model ensures safety. “A few specific factors around silent subpoena, the model of dual-custody, and nation-state protection,” alleviated clients’ concerns, said Tedjamulia.
“We no longer know where our perimeter is because attorneys are working from anywhere now.”
Powell showed survey results indicating that law firms are not resisting the move out of fear about the security — you can encrypt and safeguard clients’ data as well in the cloud as on-premises, but more because they fear the move will be too difficult and too expensive.
Of course, cloud technology must be demonstrated to be a lot simpler to use than the existing on-premises solution to make the transition easier for attorneys. In fact, what many law firms already use on-premises is much more difficult and complicated than the cloud technology that firms are considering moving towards, Powell noted, adding lawyers don’t tend to think about all the risks they currently face from having built up, piecemeal, a system over the past 20 years.
“If you run all your IT in the same building where all your attorneys reside and work, it would take only one small fire to completely wipe out your firm’s on-premises solution and cause million in losses per day in chargeable work,” he said.
Panelist Ben Di Marco, chief technology officer of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, echoed those statements, saying that law firms can no longer rely on on-premises technology providing a moat of security around a firm’s data. “We no longer know where our perimeter is because attorneys are working from anywhere now,” Di Marco observed.
The key may be in how you approach gun-shy attorneys who don’t totally understand the specifics of the technology, several panelists explained. Echoing a recent theme in the industry that partners don’t need to possess knowledge about all things but should learn to rely on those who do, panelists suggested partners and firm management don’t need to understand all the technical details of cloud technology but must realize that it’s a secure reliable tool with too many benefits to ignore. “They may not understand the particulars but get them to grasp that it’s here to stay and ensure they understand the benefits of using it, especially on driving client value,” said Di Marco.
Another key is to ensure firm leadership understands the direct value and even additional revenue cloud technology could drive for their clients. For example, Fasken Martineau has used contract analysis and other software to power Via Fasken, a portal where both clients and even potential clients can generate documents in platform to use for their transactions, Di Marco said. The idea of the portal is to allow clients and potential clients to interact with the firm even before seeking out legal counsel, which will hopefully propel some toward the firm for more complex work.
“If you run all your IT in the same building where all your attorneys reside and work, it would take only one small fire to completely wipe out your firm’s on-premises solution…”
Mick Atton, VP and chief architect of Technology & Operations at Thomson Reuters, agreed that law firms should focus more attention on value-creating technology such as what Di Marco described. “Attorneys should put their efforts into curating content to train machines, in ways that measurably increase value and drive change for their clients, rather than focusing on the means of infrastructure the firm is using,” Atton explained.
In fact, in a very direct way, cloud technology can allow firms to re-imagine a system that better drives client value than the on-premise systems they currently use. “If you were starting over again, you would never ever build what’s in many firms’ basements today,” Macfarlanes’ Powell said. “You’d be crazy to build that.”
Law firms need to try more new technologies and take a chance on start-ups — and not be afraid to let them fail, Powell added, noting that some law firm technology departments so dislike to admit failure that pilots have outlasted IT directors’ tenure at a firm.
Atton agreed, analogizing to an old Australian saying: “These machines are cattle, not pets. If they fail, you have to end the experiment, not take it to the vet and treat it for colic.” Atton predicted that in the future, cloud technology would allow for more embedded artificial intelligence and machine learning. “Imagine if your system could understand the matter you’re working on without you even telling it,” he said, predicting that over the next three to five years, the legal industry would start focusing more on what the machines can accomplish rather than whether the technology is housed on-premises or stored in the cloud.
The other panelists agreed, further predicting law firms would possess very little technology on-premises in five-years’ time, because firms would be heavily focused on procuring technology that would establish the value of their services to clients.